Supporters rally for McComas
A crowd of about 30 people turned out Wednesday afternoon in Hawthorne Park to show support for Chad McComas, the former executive director of Rogue Retreat who was separated from the nonprofit Tuesday.
The supporters included a mix of young and old, housed and unhoused, some with signs, bullhorns, dogs and stories of how McComas had helped them turn their lives around.
The group formed after news broke Tuesday that McComas would not return to Rogue Retreat after being placed on administrative leave in June following allegations by two groups, Siskiyou Rising Tide and Siskiyou Abolition Project, that the pastor had links to a group that espoused gay conversion therapy in 2018.
The allegations led to two investigations, one by the city of Medford and one by Rogue Retreat.
Medford City Attorney Eric Mitton issued a report in July in which he confirmed a link between Set Free Christian Fellowship and conversion therapy, but the city did not consider it sufficient to revoke an $11,550 grant for services provided at the church.
The results of a separate third-party investigation were made public Wednesday by Rogue Retreat. The report found “no evidence of discrimination” by McComas or Rogue Retreat staff “toward LGBTQIA+ persons (or any other persons),” according to a press release from Rogue Retreat.
In addition, Rogue Retreat, which provides extensive services for homeless people in Southern Oregon, laid off 25 people last week, the release said.
“Rogue Retreat is currently conducting assessment and process evaluations so that we can deliver much-needed programs,” the release said.
“As part of this top-to-bottom review, we have concluded that our current budget will not sustain the current size of our workforce. We have reduced our workforce to align with our payroll budget. Sadly, 25 of our dedicated colleagues were let go last week,” the release said.
“Any organization of Rogue Retreat’s size and impact must constantly evolve and move forward to maintain relevancy and solvency. For us, this means engaging in a thoughtful study and a realignment of services to maintain our core vision of delivering much-needed community services to our clients while remaining financially stable now and in the future,” the release said.
Ashland resident Cass Bic, an advocate from Judi’s Midnight Diner, a sister project of Siskiyou Rising Tide, said McComas’ dismissal was “a really great first step and a show of faith that makes us all feel a little more confident that we’re all working toward the same goals.”
“We’re happy that Pastor Chad has been terminated, and we’re looking forward to continuing to work on improving the quality of Rogue Retreat. We’ve been talking to unhoused folks, friends living out on the streets, and conducting surveys and doing outreach,” Bic said.
“We’ve been talking to a lot of people living on the streets who had used Rogue Retreat services and had been frustrated with the experiences they had. Rogue Retreat is supposed to be low or no barrier, but when you have bigotry involved, bigotry itself is a barrier.”
Rogue Retreat board Chair Thomas Fischer said McComas being let go was a financially based decision, and that allegations pertaining to conversion therapy had no bearing on the decision to part ways with McComas, who founded the organization.
“Our decision was not at all based on the discrimination allegations or the things on social media being said. The decision was based totally on things that have to do with financial stability of Rogue Retreat,” Fischer said.
“One of the toughest things was last Wednesday, doing the 25 layoffs was just really tough, because every person at Rogue Retreat worked there, yes, because they need to earn money like all of us, but there was such a strong sense of purpose in wanting to serve people and see them progress.”
Fischer said employees who chose to attend the rally for McComas were not discouraged.
“Chad created Rogue Retreat and he was, is and will forever be the founder. The man is incredible in how he can see how to serve the homeless and get them moving on. It’s going to be a tough thing to lose, but we have to move forward.”
On Wednesday afternoon, those who attended the rally in Hawthorne Park marched to Rogue Retreat’s offices, which were closed.
Rogue Retreat case manager Cindy VanCamp, who marched with the group, said employees were sent home early Wednesday because of the demonstration.
VanCamp said emotions were running high at Rogue Retreat after more than two-dozen layoff, and “Chad being fired even after finding he did nothing wrong.”
“When it comes to (Rogue Retreat), I’ve ever only known Pastor Chad to live by commandment 1 and commandment 2, and that’s to love your God above all others and love each other,” VanCamp said.
“That was how he’s run this program, loving everybody all the same. ... He used to walk our properties and pray over them. He used to go talk to people and find out what they needed. He is irreplaceable.”
VanCamp said a meeting was held Wednesday morning where employees were told that Rogue Retreat had “been in trouble, financially, for 10 months, even before the allegations.”
She noted, “If that’s the case, why isn’t the board in trouble? Why get rid of the person who runs everything and who built it? What’s the board’s excuse?”
Mary Randahl, an employee of Rogue Retreat, said she showed up to the rally despite concerns about retaliation at work.
“What’s happening is very wrong. Chad is an amazing man, and I’m really upset about this whole thing. ... Chad is Rogue Retreat, and I can’t believe this is happening,” she said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.